8 responses

  1. Hello! Long time no see! (or talk?)
    I sent an email maybe a year ago, and your critique illuminated all the errors which passed me by. I find myself in a critical rut again and was wondering if you could look at this. I am trying to figure out blank verse and all its intricacies– my method is to gruel out a few lines a month (and delete them as soon as I come to my senses).

    A Bohemian Rebel, 1618

    The Soldier crossed the threshold, heeled his boot,
    And surveyed what little lies between himself
    and both those men— a wooden table, strewn
    with papers, interposed a candlestick
    Which flickered out a threadbare candlelight.
    Behind it, one was backed against the stones;
    And the other one was closer to the table—
    His body kept steady in the mid-ground;
    His left-hand eye was gleaming through his browline
    Which crinkled over both of his sockets,
    Encaging them in that same stiff disbelief
    He breathed.
    ………………….The Soldier took a step forward.
    They kept their eyes on him and kept their distance
    When suddenly the window buckled and clapped
    And the night outside burst through, and it wrenched
    The sound of wind and wood against wood and metal.
    The candle voided out.

    P.S I especially liked this haiku today :)

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    • Okay, first impressions. It feels like you’re struggling to produce a readable, prose-like narrative and also write blank verse. I have a hunch that if you were describing the same scene writing prose, the voice would feel more relaxed and natural but, that said, you’ve done a good job. Couple minor observations. You begin the narrative in the past tense and then move to the present tense “lies” in the same sentence. I’ve done that myself when editing my writing. I think “And the two men” would sound more natural than “And both those men” even though it introduces two variant feet in the first two feet. That’s permissible when writing blank verse—not all the time but as variants. Why “flickered out” rather than “flickered with”? The use of the preposition “out” normally refers to a candle going out— as in “the candled flickered out”. It’s not really vernacular English.

      “And the other one was closer to the table—”

      How about:

      “While the other was closer to the table—”

      This introduces two trochees in the first two feet, which is permissible, while avoiding the repetition of “one was” in both lines.

      “His body kept steady in the mid-ground;”

      A line like this is what suggests that you are struggling to write vernacular English. Rather than write “His body”, which makes it sound like he’s a corpse, you would probably simply write “He kept steady”, but you needed the syllable count for the sake of the meter. Likewise, “Encaging” sounds somewhat contrived for the sake of meter. This sort of neologism was standard fair in Elizabethan times but it’s much harder to get away with these days.

      The final three lines seem a little forced. “The night outside” is redundant in that the night is always going to be outside, and so the word “outside” feels inserted strictly for metrical reasons. And this:

      “…and it wrenched
      The sound of wind and wood against wood and metal.”

      Feels almost there, but why “The sound of”? This too feels unneeded.

      Producing the feel of natural and colloquial English within the confines of meter is one of the hardest feats to accomplish. :) But keep working at it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. Poetry is damn tough. I agree with you, and I’ll try again. Hopefully it’ll be something new. Would you mind if I post it here again when I am done?

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    • Hi! I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and I think I know why I keep running into walls. So far I’ve been defining myself negatively with respect to other poets (I will do this, but NOT like Donne, I will do this but NOT like Frost etc.) and it’s sterilized my writing. You wrote somewhere that people want poetry that matters and that is saying something, so maybe I need to clear out my throat first. Also going over it again, a lot of my stuff feels overly finicky, which dilutes everything and tests the reader’s patience. But I’m still working at it, still reading Shakespeare like a sorry exegete, and maybe one day I’ll learn to speak for myself.

      Best,

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    • I remember being a teenager and hearing my own English teacher, Greg Schaefer, excitedly calling his mother to tell her that he’d finally found his voice as a poet. He then became a lawyer (I think). :) But that always struck me. I don’t have any good advice as far as that goes. However, I did make a copy of the poem he wrote the night he discovered his voice. I still have it somewhere. (I think I know where.)

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    • But that anecdote gives me an unnerving itch. If there is any poetry, it has to be washed in the sea all beings; and whatever foot the poet steps into it should no longer be his. So it can’t be my voice, it can’t be my personality that needs expressing. I hold the latter way of thinking accountable for what disappoints me most if I ever try to read a poetry magazine. But then I’m left with a big “Then What?” and I don’t know.

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    • A while back I wrote a post called Rich in Invention. The idea of finding ones “voice” is a relatively recent invention. If you go back 200 years and more, nobody talked about art that way. Art used to express ones mastery of what had gone before. Nowadays, art is primarily a means to express “the self”.

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